With the US Open looming large, all the players are gearing up for the last slam of 2011.
The obvious favorite, Novak Djokovic, has won two out of three grand slams this year, and has been playing the best tennis of his life; having beaten Rafael Nadal five times and Roger Federer three times. The Serb has only one loss—the 2011 French Open semifinal to Federer—on the entire year.
Nadal, the defending champion, won the French Open this year as he cruised to a four-set victory over Roger Federer in the final. At Wimbledon, Rafa looked good, but nowhere near as unstoppable as Djokovic, who beat him in the final. Despite having won the title last year, most people expect Novak to come home with the trophy.
Roger Federer hasn't looked as good as he was two or three years ago as he hasn't won any slams this year; only one title (Doha). In the Australian Open, Roger reached the semifinals, but his efforts weren't enough to keep Novak Djokovic at bay. He reached the final of the French Open, and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. A lot of people rule out Federer as a threat in grand slams, saying that Nadal and Djokovic are the two main contenders.
Andy Murray hasn't looked too impressive this year. He got to the finals of the Australian Open, but that was in part because Nadal got injured and lost in the quarters. In the French Open, he lost to Nadal in the semis, and the same thing happened at Wimbledon. Some are saying that this is one of the biggest grand slam shots of his career.
Out of these four, Djokovic is the one given the highest chances, with Nadal following. However, these are only the favorites.
Here are five people who aren't given much of a shot, but still can do well.
Why he has a shot: Tomas Berdych hasn't impressed so much this year as he did last year. In 2010, he got to the finals of Wimbledon, as he blew past Federer and Djokovic. In the final, however, Nadal proved to be too much for the Czech to handle, as Rafa cruised to his second Wimbledon title.
That was a glimpse of Berdych's potential. No matter how small, it still showed that Berdych is not incapable of being a world class player and a contender for grand slams.
This year, Berdych has failed to capture a title, as his record is 34-15 on the year—not very good for a Top 10 player. The US Open has many players who haven't played well, who pick up their form in order to perform in the last slam of the year.
Maybe Berdych can be one of those guys.
Why he has a shot: In 2009, Richard Gasquet was suspended by the ATP for use of cocaine, and his game suffered a major setback. His ranking plummeted to 86, which isn't good for someone with his talent level.
Since then, the Frenchman has really started to pick up his game as he dazzles spectators with his great backhand. Though he hasn't gotten to the final of a tournament since Nice of 2010, his form this year is looking great, and he really has a shot at a surprise run.
Though he hasn't broken into the Top 10 this year, if he has a hot streak at Flushing Meadows, he could crack the Top 10 —or maybe even higher. Like Berdych, he can really start picking up his form as the US Open inches closer.
Why he has a shot: Robin Soderling made his name in 2009, as he beat a semi-fit Nadal at the French Open, making that match Nadal's only loss at Roland Garros. He proceeded to the final of that very tournament, only to lose to Federer in straights.
Soderling's ability to beat Nadal was mostly because he could pound the ball by Rafa, even on clay, which is such a slow surface. He was one of the only people to hit the ball through Nadal on clay, something that only Djokovic has shown that he can do this year.
So far this year, the Swede has yet to make a grand slam semifinal, though he has won four tournaments already (Bastad, Marseille, Rotterdam, Brisbane). Like Del Potro did to Nadal in the 2009 US Open semifinal, can Soderling beat Nadal by sheer power?
Maybe everything will come together at the US Open, giving Soderling a surprise run to the semis, or even the finals.
Why he has a shot: In 2009, after steamrolling Nadal in the US Open semifinal, Juan Martin del Potro advanced to his first grand slam final. It was a thrilling match pitting him against Federer, with del Potro edging the Swiss Maestro in five sets.
However, after winning his first major, the Argentine hurt his wrist very badly, and was unable to play for about a year. After dropping to a career-low ranking of 485, "DelPo" bounced back, and has won two titles already this year.
Having already advanced into the Top 20, many people are giving him a shot to defend his title in Flushing Meadows as he did not play in last year's tournament.
If del Potro meets a big player, can he overpower him like he did to Rafa?
Why he has a shot: Tsonga made his name in the 2008 Australian Open, when he beat Nadal in the semifinals, and proceeded to lose to Djokovic in the final. People were talking about the new sensation: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Tsonga is another player who relies on physicality, and all of his strokes are hit with immense pace. He is also a fan favorite, since he has so much energy and leaves everything on the court; diving, yelling and smiling.
After a few years of not doing as well as he would have hoped, Tsonga was awesome at this year's Wimbledon. He made it to the quarterfinals, where he overcame a two-set deficit against Federer in order to advance to the semis (where he lost to Novak). Just recently, in the Rogers Cup, Tsonga beat Roger again in three sets.
Given his form of late, maybe the Frenchman can do very well at the US Open, where his biggest obstacle would probably be Djokovic.
He might have a huge shot at a semifinal run.
Do any of these players really have a shot at winning? Not really.
But do they have a shot at making a run, and turning heads? Yes.
For these players, a surprise run means different things for each one, since some are ranked high, and others low.
I think Tsonga has the biggest shot at doing so, and del Potro is next. I don't know if the rest are really capable of doing that well, but they are the next contenders.
Let's hope the US Open is full of surprises.
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